GILBERTVILLE — Fearless, strong, disciplined and driven. Thomas Even can trace a lot of the attributes that make him a successful athlete back to his summer job.
“I cut down trees for my dad (Ron), which helps a lot with the strength and conditioning,” said Even, who spends his summers working for Even Family Tree Service. “When you’re 60 foot up in the air holding branches with one arm and a chainsaw in the other, it’s pretty rigorous.”
Growing up within a family of wrestlers that includes his older brother, Austin, who won an individual state championship, Thomas says he was initially drawn to the mat before gaining a passion for football later in grade school.
It hasn’t taken Even long to find dual-sport success.
As a freshman defensive lineman, he finished with 37 tackles and eight sacks on the Dons’ 2016 title team. Last fall, he was an all-state linebacker with a team-high 65 tackles for an undefeated championship team. Even also capped his sophomore wrestling campaign as a contributor on teams that won the State Duals title and finished runner-up in the traditional meet.
Crediting the example set by family, Even says he learned to value hard work and effort from a young age. It’s no surprise one of his favorite hobbies is lifting weights.
“I love getting in the weight room, trying to better myself, because I believe you can’t expect everything to get handed to you,” Even said. “You have to work hard and lift weights to get better. If you lift a lot of weights and you do it right, you can excel on the football field.”
In addition to leading 8-player’s No. 3-ranked Don Bosco into the playoffs with 73 tackles, including seven for loss, Even has become the Dons’ featured running back. He’s expanded upon last year’s introduction in which he averaged 14.6 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on 41 carries, by rushing for 1,327 yards (10.7 per carry) with 29 TDs.
During last week’s win over Riceville, Even needed just eight carries to amass 211 yards and three scores on the shortened 80-yard field.
“He’s one of those guys, when he touches the ball, he can make a lot of things happen,” Don Bosco coach Colby Yoder said. “He adds another dimension. People are going to struggle to tackle him with one guy. He’s kind of like a human pinball and it’s fun to watch.”
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The junior within an 8-play dynasty has patiently waited for this opportunity, sticking to the healthy diet and conditioning learned from a wrestler’s lifestyle. That training has helped him handle the workload that accompanies the role of an being an impact, two-way player.
“Off the field there’s not many kids working as hard as he is,” Yoder said. “He’s got a lot of personal pride. That’s what I really like about him. He’s real confident in himself, and he’s played on two state championship teams. He understands what it takes to get to that level and he’s showing that he can play at that level.”
Similar to his freshman season, Even has seen the Dons try to regroup from a surprising setback in their homecoming game. Two years ago, they lost to Central Elkader before avenging that defeat in the playoffs en route to a championship. This fall, it was a surprising 18-0 shutout loss to Northwood-Kensett that served as a catalyst for Even and a few other upperclassmen to encourage the youthful Dons to refocus.
“We don’t taking losing here lightly,” Even said. “We were shocked, to be honest.
“We just had to take a step back. We had a players’ meeting with no coaches in the locker room. All of us players just talked it out, what we needed to do to get better, the type of mindset we needed to have. I believe we’ve been clicking on all cylinders since. We’re where we need to be for the playoffs.”
Added Yoder, “The loss, it’s something that maybe needed to happen. It got us a little more focused.”
The junior with a perfect record through two postseason football runs is ready to strap up his helmet for another journey beginning at 7 p.m. Friday when Central City (8-1) comes to Gilbertville.
“It’s the best time of the year,” Even said. “I’m pretty amped up about it, starting to get those postseason jitters. Playing good football teams, there’s nothing better than that rush when you step on the field.”
With plenty of high school football games and wrestling matches still ahead of him, Even says he’s begun to evaluate his college options in each sport. He has embraced his leadership role within a pair of teams accustomed to success.
“It’s been amazing,” Even said. “This school has so much tradition in wrestling and football. I’ve always seen myself as a leader, just because of the way I was raised. To have an impact on a great program like this is truly a blessing.”